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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Turkmen leader orders ice palace
By Monica Whitlock
BBC Central Asia correspondent

President Saparmurat Niyazov Palace in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (file picture)
Extravagant building has characterised Mr Niyazov's rule
President Niyazov of Turkmenistan has ordered the construction of a palace made of ice in the heart of his desert country, one of the hottest on earth.

It is the latest in a series of colossal building projects instigated by the all-powerful president that seem to defy the country's environment.

"Let us build a palace of ice," said President Niyazov, "big and grand enough for 1,000 people."

The palace will stand in the mountains just outside the capital, Ashgabat.

President Niyazov made the announcement in a speech broadcast on Turkmen television, which in effect made it a presidential order.

Environmental challenge

The idea is to build the palace in the Copa Deg Mountains outside Ashgabat, now baking in the summer heat, with a long cable-car running up from the city.

"Our children can learn to ski," Mr Niyazov enthused, "we can build cafes there, and restaurants."

President Niyazov's extravagant buildings are a hallmark of his idiosyncratic regime.

He is currently building one of the biggest mosques in the world, and has a chain of conventional palaces.

But the latest have a special quality - of challenging Turkmenistan's desert environment.

As well as the ice palace, there is to be a vast aquarium. The projects tend now to be sites of recreation for the people, like a Disney-style theme park instead of state palaces.

That is in keeping with Mr Niyazov's image as a servant of his people, who lays on every sort of amenity for them.

Ice palaces were popular in the Soviet Union, to which Turkmenistan once belonged, but they were built in the freezing cities of the north, far away.

The Turkmen mountains are relatively high, but it is hard to imagine the palace remaining frozen without some sort of technical help.

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